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Atlantic Marine Monument Withstands Federal Appeals Court Challenge

NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research
via Associated Press/file
This undated file photo released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration made during the Northeast U.S. Canyons Expedition 2013, shows corals on Mytilus Seamount off the coast of New England in the North Atlantic Ocean.

A federal appeals court has ruled that President Barack Obama acted within his authority when he created the country’s first Atlantic marine monument off the coast of New England in 2016.

“The fishermen have had the ocean all to themselves for centuries.” says Peter Shelley, senior council for the Conservation Law Foundation in Boston.

Shelley says the lawsuit challenging the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Monument, and the presidential authority that created it, failed to acknowledge other “values” such as conservation and preservation as powers granted in the Antiquities Act of 1906.

Shelley says the appeals decision is good news for a very delicate region of the Atlantic Ocean.

“But it’s also good news for other areas of great scientific interest that need to be protected from the destructive effects of fishing and oil and gas drilling and other sorts of development activities,” he says.

The ruling came in the response to an appeal brought by members of the commercial fishing industry who challenged the creation of the monument. The groups argued that the Antiquities Act of 1906, which enabled the creation of monuments by executive order, could not have meant to include areas inside the country’s exclusive economic zone, as that 200-mile zone was not established at the time.

A U.S. District Court judge denied that argument and also cited that, on three separate occasions, the Supreme Court had already affirmed a president’s power to create a monument on the sea floor. Friday’s decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington D.C. unanimously affirms those rulings.

Jonathan Wood, an attorney with Pacific Legal Foundation which represents the appellants, responded to the decision in an email.

"We're disappointed but think the opinion is wrong. We'll need to consult with our clients to determine whether to appeal,” he said.